God’s People, part 165: Petros

Read Matthew 4:18-22

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”  (Matthew 16:18, NRSV)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

ApostlePeterPart 165: Petros. Petros’ birth name was Simon son of Jonah (Simon bar Jonah). Living in Bethsaida, a fishing town located at the place where the Jordan River enters into the Sea of Galilee,  Simon was a fisherman by trade and had at least a wife and ailing mother-in-law to feed and support. It is also likely that he had children and other extended family members to care for as well; however, the Bible only explicitly mentions his wife and mother-in-law.

Knowing Simon bar Jonah’s trade, we can actually ascertain quite a bit about him and his family. Simon would not have been very highly educated. His education would have been what was standard among the peasant population, which amounts to very little education at all. He would have been taught by his mother and by the Rabbi in his local synagogue the essentials of the Torah and what it meant to be a 1st Century Jew; however, that’s about it. In fact, the Acts of the Apostles reveals as much in 4:13: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus”  (Acts 4:13, KJV).

The literacy rate in ancient Judaea was about 3%, with education reserved for the elite. Thus, folks like Simon would have been illiterate, unable to read or write. He would have grown up learning his religious and cultural duties by oral transmission. He more than likely became a fisherman because that was his father’s trade. Thus, Simon bar Jonah was not meant to ever amount to be more than what his father Jonah was: a fisherman.

Fishing itself was a part of the larger embedded agricultural economy of 1st Century Galilee. By embedded I mean that there was no free market that was separate and distinct from the other aspects of society. Fishing and agriculture (including production, processing, trade, etc.) were also linked to politics, religion, family and social life. There was no such thing as upward mobility. Most fishing families, Simon’s family being no exception, were poor and lived in survival mode. What’s more, in order to fish certain areas of the sea of Galilee, a fisherman needed to have a special license, which took away from the overall income of a fisherman and his family. They also needed to supply themselves with their own raw materials for their boats, nets and other tools.

This is the world that Simon bar Jonah was born into and was working in when Jesus of Nazareth came to him one day along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He had spent the entire night fishing and hadn’t caught a single fish. Jesus invited him and his brother Andrew, along with John and James, sons of Zebedee to go back out and fish. Following that miraculous fishing expedition, Jesus provided them with the unlikeliest opportunity: to become a follower and, eventually, a leader in the Jesus movement.

To say that Peter was an unlikely candidate for such a role is an understatement. He was, again, illiterate and ignorant. He was rough around the edges, no doubt, and crude. He could be blunt and rash. What’s more, his ignorance led him to often times miss the bigger picture of what Jesus was teaching and doing. This led him into conflicts with Jesus and with other disciples. He was a VERY unlikely candidate for becoming a part of such a movement, let alone a chief leader of it.

Yet, Jesus saw potential in him that no one else would have. Jesus saw and drew it out of him. It was, after all, Peter who was first among the disciples to recognize that Jesus was “the Messiah, the son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). In response to Simon’s divinely inspired proclamation, Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are you Simon bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are [Petros] (aka Peter or Cephas in Aramaic), and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades (aka the place of the dead) will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:17).

What Jesus started with Petros did not end there. He continued to assemble the most unlikely of students who would one day take over his entire movement when he was no longer around to carry it on. It is this vagabond group of misfits, starting with an ignorant fisherman from Galilee, that would go on, through the power of Christ, to transform the world.

The questions for us are these: do we see ourselves as being a part of the great Jesus movement that Jesus started with Peter? Do we see ourselves as underwhelming additions to this movement and, as a consequence, as to unworthy of being of any use to Christ? The challenge for us is to humble ourselves enough to realize that no one and nothing is beyond Christ’s reach and that Christ does not choose us because we are worthy; rather, we are worthy because Christ has chosen us. Let us be challenged by this and have faith that Christ is transforming the world in and through us.

“Pray that, above all things, the gates of light may be opened to you; for these things cannot be perceived or understood by all, but only by the man to whom God and His Christ have imparted wisdom.” – Justin Martyr

Lord, help me to see you at work within me. I am willing to serve you and trust that you have made me able. Amen.

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